Texas law recognizes 911 dispatchers as first responders

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GRAYSON COUNTY, Tex. (KXII) - A new law went in effect September 1 in Texas that gives more recognition and benefits to emergency dispatchers.

Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1090 into effect in June which changes the state definition of a first responder.

This new law now classifies dispatchers in the same way as EMS personnel, firefighters, and police.

Lt. Mike Eppler with Denison Police says even though this is a new law, dispatchers have always been first responders.

"They are the lifeline for the department and also for the public too because when people call needing help, that's the person they talk to, and the dispatchers are the ones that send the right people to the right place at the right time," said Eppler.

In addition to greater recognition, dispatchers now have access to special training and services that were not available to them before becoming first responders.

As a dispatcher for the Grayson County Sheriff's Office, Melissa Townsend says this new law has been a long time coming.

"It's an honor because we do so much behind the scenes, and it's almost like we get forgotten about sometimes," said Townsend.

She hopes others will follow Texas in recognizing the duties that dispatchers face every day.

"We wish the federal government would step up now, but it's an honor for Texas to say 'hey, you are first responders,'" said Townsend.

Denison dispatcher Andrew Baldridge describes being a dispatcher as being on a different side of the same problem – first responders are on the same team.

"You have to sit there and hold their hand through it, metaphorically speaking, help them do CPR, and stay on the line with them until help does get there. You're it for them. You are their contact. You're their voice," said Baldridge.

Both Townsend and Baldridge say being classified as first responders gives them a sense of pride in what they do, but will not change the quality of work they put in.

"We just really appreciate what they do. No one really, truly appreciates how tough their job is until they have to sit down and do it," said Eppler.